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December 30, 2009 > Food Labels Can Help People With Diabetes Stay on Track

Food Labels Can Help People With Diabetes Stay on Track

If you have diabetes, you know eating right is an important part of keeping your diabetes under control. Counting carbohydrates, and reducing your intake of sodium and fat, are all part of a healthy meal plan. But how do you know what's in the food you eat?
"Food labels can help you make good food choices," said Anna Mazzei, a register dietitian at Washington Hospital. "But they can be confusing."
She will present an upcoming class titled "The Truth About Food Labels." The class is part of Washington Hospital's free Diabetes Matters education series and is scheduled for Thursday, January 7, from 7 to 9 p.m. It will be held at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium at Washington West, 2500 Mowry Avenue, in Fremont.
Nearly every package of food sold in the U.S. has a label on it that lists the serving size and other nutritional information. In addition, many foods make nutrition claims such as "heart healthy" or "low fat." But what does that really mean?
"There are definitely some confusing claims out there," Mazzei said. "I'll talk about some of the health claims on food packaging and walk people through the anatomy of a food label."
Health claims on food labels are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), according to Mazzei. These include claims by food manufacturers that their product will reduce the risk of developing a certain disease or condition. For example, when a cereal maker states that its oat cereal can help reduce cholesterol. These claims must be based on scientific evidence to be approved by the FDA, she explained. Mazzei will provide an overview of health claims that have been approved by the FDA.
She will also explain what certain claims mean. For example, any product that is "low calorie" must have less than 40 calories per serving. A "low-sodium" food must have fewer than 140mg of sodium per serving.
Reading the Label
The nutrition label provides important information that can help people with diabetes stay on track, Mazzei said. It includes the amount of calories, total fat as well as saturated and trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, protein, total carbohydrates, and selected vitamins and minerals in a serving. The most important piece of information for those with diabetes is the total carbohydrates, she added.
Serving size is based on the amount of food people typically eat in a given meal. But that may or may not be the amount you normally eat.
"You have to pay attention to the number of servings when counting carbohydrates and other nutrients," Mazzei said. "For example, if you eat a package of crackers and it contains three servings, you need to multiply the number of carbs in a single serving by three."
Other important ingredients to watch for are sodium, saturated fat and trans fat, she said. People with diabetes are at much higher risk for heart disease and stroke, so they need to monitor their intake of salt and fat, according to Mazzei.
"There is a lot of information on labels that can help you decide what to buy and how much of it you should eat in one sitting," she said. "I'll help people understand what they need to look for and how to apply it to their diet and meal plan."
Learn more about reading food labels by attending the Diabetes Matters class on January 7. Registration is not required. To find out about other diabetes education classes or programs, call (510) 745-6556 or visit
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Come to the Diabetes Support Group
Success in managing diabetes has a lot to do with receiving and giving social support. For people who suffer from diabetes, Washington Hospital's Outpatient Diabetes Program offers a support group that allows people to have in-depth conversations about what's happening in their lives and share information about dealing with diabetes in a positive and caring environment. The support group meetings are held at 8 p.m. every month immediately following the hour-long Diabetes Matters lecture which begins at 7 p.m. the first Thursday of each month. Family members and friends are also welcome. For more information about the support group or other classes and programs, call the Diabetes Services program at (510) 745-6556 or visit us on the web:
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